June 14, 2019

John Horgan, Freudian?

It sure sounds like the Scientific American writer, science popularizer and philosophical scrivener of sorts is just that, about halfway through this piece, where he claims that a bit of animal research offers corroboration for Freudianism.

Sorry, John, but I don't see that at all. Nor does our mutual friend Massimo Pigliucci, who linked it in a recent readings roundup. I said in a comment there that I was "gobsmacked." He said "it surprised the hell out of me."

All I see it as supporting is the idea of animal imprinting as studied by Niko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz, and neither of them was close to being a Freudian.

There's also a false dichotomy at play. Just because we still don't know much about consciousness, and that other, themselves sometimes bad stabs at the issue are problematic, doesn't mean that Freudianism deserves any serious consideration.

Hint: It doesn't.

And noting that Christof Koch says it does? To me, that's not an attestation to Freudianism; given Koch has jumped into the empty pool of panpsychism, if anything, it's an attestation AGAINST Freudianism. (So are other ideas of his on consciousness.)

Also, not all of the other attempts are as bad as Freudianism. Ev psych might be just about as pseudoscientific.

But others, like even the maligned behavioralism, have generally made themselves more open to scientific study than Freudian claims. That's part of how we know psycholpharmacology falls short itself. The "neurotransmitter theory" hasn't worn well.

THAT said, most these other stabs, for this and other reasons, aren't as bad as Freudianism. While meds don't work well for depression, they do in some cases work better than placebo. AND, while they do have a variety of bad side effects, they do offer a fair amount of relief for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.

Indeed, Elyn Sacks, subject of one chapter on John's most recent book, takes her meds for schizophrenia while also seeing a Freudian therapist. And, she says she would take the meds through even worse side effects than those she actually experiences. I think she's wrong on Freudianism as the particular counseling modality she seeks out, but not wrong on supplementing her psychotropic medications with counseling.

In addition, to riff on Jerome Groopman's piece, when Freud (and Jannet) in studying "hysterical" women realized they were coming across a boatload of cases of women alleging they'd been sexualy abused as children (and likely were), they dropped this like a hot potato. It was after that that Freud started pushing his "repression" ideas. The background on that is thus pretty sick.

Related to that, most these other theories at least make attempts to move the ball forward. Can't say that I've heard of Freudianism doing that, either.

At least it wasn't a Jungian conference.

That said, given the ardor with which, and duration of time over which, John has held to the "maybe there's something there" on Freudianism makes me wonder if there are personal as well as professional reasons at play.

I will give Horgan credit for running a piece by Frederick Crews in his own space. Whether it convinces Horgan of anything or not, I don't know, but I kind of doubt it.

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